Hi, everyone! So, first things first: I haven’t posted here in a really long time, I know. I’m now into my second semester of my master’s course (time is flying!); but I’m hopefully going to post about that sometime in the next few weeks–once all my deadlines have passed.
In the meantime, what I’ve challenged myself to do this year is to read more books in translation. I’m going to try and read one a month (it may be more than that) and then post a review here, so that hopefully other people will read them too.
Without any further ado, here’s the first one.
(Oh yeah–there may be spoilers! Sorry!)
Title: Six Four
Author: Hideo Yokoyama
Translator: Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
Published: October 2012 (Translated: March 2016)
Synopsis (Japanese, from goodreads.com): Ｄ県警の広報が記者クラブと加害者の匿名問題で対立する中、警察庁長官による、時効の迫った重要未解決事件「６４（ロクヨン）」視察が１週間後に決定した。たった７日間しかない昭和64年に起きたＤ県警史上最悪の「翔子ちゃん誘拐殺人事件」。長官慰問を拒む遺族。当時の捜査員など６４関係者に敷かれたかん口令。刑事部と警務部の鉄のカーテン。謎のメモ。長官視察の日に一体何が起きるのか？ 組織対個人。驚愕の長編ミステリー。
My synopsis: Fourteen years ago, in a case that shocked the whole of Japan, a seven-year-old girl, Shoko, was kidnapped, held for ransom, and murdered. The case was never solved. In 2002, Yoshinobu Mikami is press director for the police in Prefecture D–and his own daughter, Ayumi, has run away, proving to be impossible to find even with 260,000 police officers on the lookout for her. As the statute of limitations is nearing on Shoko’s murder, Mikami must keep the press at bay and make sure things go well for the commissioner’s visit. However, when Mikami uncovers something that may be related to the Shoko case–the titular Six Four–and attempts to investigate against the orders of his superiors, he finds that he’s not the only one who’s suspicious, and what he finds might just tear the police department apart.
Review: First of all: this book is long. I read it on Kindle, but when I went on the Goodreads page I saw it’s almost 700 pages in English. Plus, it’s kind of slow to get started; there’s a lot of talking at the beginning about the press (as they’re introducing Mikami as the press director), but it’s worth getting through it. I read the first four chapters one day, left it, and then read the rest of the thing in one go a few nights later.
The story is split into a few different branches: there’s Mikami and his wife, Minako, hoping that Ayumi will return to them, and the truth of what happened there and what’s happening in their relationship. There’s Mikami’s almost-constant war with the local press, who are trying to get the police to lift their rule on anonymity. There’s a split in the department, with Criminal Investigations facing off against Administrative Affairs; the commissioner’s visit for the anniversary of the Six Four case; Mikami’s investigation into the information he’s found; his rivalry with another member of the force and his development with his team… There are so many strings here, but Yokoyama weaves them together skillfully, in a way that, when the twist comes, it’s a beautiful moment of realisation.
However, the book is slow. It’s supposed to be. There’s a lot of talk about inter-departmental politics (really, a lot; it’s a police procedural, but a fair chunk of the book is office politics) and none of this feels rushed; even the final twist, good as it is, doesn’t come as a short, sharp bang, but rather as a peaceful moment of, ‘Oh, of course…’ And the ending matches that, too, with the conclusion that, okay, this is how things are for now, but we’ll fix it if we have to.
As this is a translation, it’s really interesting to see the cultural differences present. I think, in some places, a Western reader might–not necessarily miss out, but not quite get the urgency that a Japanese reader might. For instance, Yokoyama brings up the concept of ‘saving face’ a lot, which is one I fully understand in theory. However, when Mikami is facing off against the press to prevent them sending a written complaint to the captain, it felt very flat, because I’m pretty sure that if that happened here, the police chief would take the complaint and read it–and that would be it. No embarrassment involved. So there are some moments where, while I understand what Yokoyama’s point is, it’s not something I get on a subconscious level, the way I would a cultural nuance from the UK. But, that’s okay. That’s the point of reading fiction like this–to understand something from the viewpoint of other people and their cultures, and it’s really special to read it here.
Lloyd-Davies appears to have done an impressive job in translating the text into English, too; he seems to grasp the pace that Yokoyama was going for and it means we have these nice close-ups of the characters and then the realisations, especially on Mikami’s part.
My main issue aside from the pacing, especially within the first few chapters, is that there are a lot of characters and many names begin with the same letter or syllable (I guess because they’d be written in kanji)–and this can be incredibly confusing. However, I have read somewhere that the paperback has a list of characters in the front in the English version–so maybe that would be helpful if you decide to read it.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book if you have some time on your hands and you’re looking for a crime novel that’s not so explosive and/or violent (see: Gone Girl, etc.). There is some violence here, but it’s minimal (it’s usually on Mikami’s part, too). Really, this is just a compelling book about the police in Japan, about their relationship with the press, and about how one man, eventually, fights for what he believes in.